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Overtown Gets the Fever PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
January 2018

Co-working space aims to spark education, coding, entrepreneurship

FTribe_1elecia Hatcher and Derick Pearson have a lot going on. They’re organizing BlackTech Week, an annual conference for minority techies and entrepreneurs that will take place in February. They’re leading efforts to teach people from poor minority neighborhoods how to program computers and make a career out of it, through Code Fever. And, they’re raising their four-year-old daughter.

“We’re always busy,” Pearson says.

And on top of all that, they’re setting up Tribe, Miami’s latest co-working space, in a renovated historic building in Overtown. Located at 937 NW 3rd Ave., the future Tribe building (full name: Tribe Co-Work & Urban Innovation Lab) is just across the street from the 71-year-old Jackson Soul Food Restaurant and just a few blocks away from a future supper club that will be owned by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, the historic Lyric Theater, the Overtown Performing Arts Center, the newly opened Lil Greenhouse Grill, and three new affordable apartment buildings.

Set to open this month, Tribe’s tenants include several black-owned businesses, such as Circle of One Marketing, two video production companies (Freeze Frame Media and Steady Image), and lobbyist Karen Moore. Also moving in: BMe, a Knight Foundation-supported nonprofit that seeks to inspire and celebrate black men who contribute toward “caring and prosperous communities” in Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Akron.

“I’m extremely excited to get this open,” Hatcher tells the BT as a couple of Code Fever employees move in tables and chairs. Hatcher says she hopes to create the same sort of collaborative environment she and her husband, Pearson, experienced at WeWork shared office facility in Miami Beach and at the Wynwood-based LAB Miami.

Tribe_2But that’s not all. Through Tribe, Hatcher wants to have a positive impact in Overtown, which is one of the poorest areas in Miami. “Our mission at Code Fever and all the programs that we do is to rid black communities of innovation deserts,” she says.

Toward that end, Code Fever will also have a classroom in Tribe to teach students how to code computers, and senior citizens how to use the Internet and social media. Rent collected monthly from tenants (which includes $79 for a mailbox, $149 to $250 for shared desk memberships, and $1000 to $4500 for an office space) will be used to fund Code Fever’s education efforts. And through partners like Plantation-based virtual reality company Magic Leap, Code Fever aims to connect people with jobs in the tech industry.

Pearson says he hopes Tribe will enable Code Fever to obtain more partners and sponsors to further their education efforts. “So that’s where we’re at right now. Boots on the ground,” he explains. “Trying to come up with partners to get more funding to sponsor the coding aspect of it. We got sponsors for the space. We got sponsors for the BlackTech Week. We need sponsors for the actual training of youth.”

The primary sponsor of the Tribe space is real estate developer Michael Simkins. Actually, Simkins and his brother Ronald own the 63-year-old building, which they bought in October 2014 for $550,000.

The Tribe building, incidentally, is just a small part of the real estate empire that Michael Simkins and his partners are assembling within the Southeast Overtown Park West (SEOPW) Community Redevelopment Area.

Tribe_3In Park West at NW 10th Street and 1st Avenue, Michael Simkins spent $100 million assembling 10.8 acres of property, where he intends to build the Miami Innovation District, a mega real estate project that may include up to seven million square feet of office space, as well as micro-apartments and retail, and, maybe, a 633-foot media tower that would broadcast advertisements. Simkins says he’s still wrangling with Miami’s city attorney over the media tower.

In Overtown, Simkins and his brother spent around $25 million buying and renovating properties, much of them within an area that the SEOPW Community Redevelopment Agency wants to establish as a cultural and entertainment district.

It’s a goal Simkins shares. At first, Simkins says, he considered opening “a live music venue” and jazz club at the 937 NW 3rd Ave. building. But then he learned that the building was used as “kind of a meeting space” where people “got together to exchange ideas.” That’s when he decided the building was a better fit for Pearson and Hatcher, both of whom he knew through the Simkins Family Foundation’s support of BlackTech Week.

“Our foundation is supportive of entrepreneurial, technology-driven job creation initiatives, particularly in South Florida,” says Simkins, a Miami Beach native and son of the late Miami philanthropist Leon Simkins. “This [Tribe] fell into that bucket.”

Simkins says that prior to last year’s BlackTech Week conference, “they were looking for a new home and we had that building, and we wanted to do something impactful,” he says. “It didn’t take long for me to make a deal with them.” Under that deal, Code Fever would manage and occupy the building, rent-free, for five years.

Tribe_4The building has interesting history. Its previous owner was the New Providence Lodge No. 365, a Freemason chapter that was chartered in 1917, during the Jim Crow era, when African Americans were not allowed to travel outside of Overtown “without a special pass or work permit,” notes a 2006 report from the Black Archives History & Research Foundation of South Florida.

“Believing that they could serve the community residents better with their own building, they [Lodge No. 365 members] purchased a piece of property on Northwest Third Avenue and Ninth Street in 1947, and began working toward their goal,” the Black Archives report continues. “Like many of the original structures in the Colored Town/Overtown area, the Lodge was built in the evenings. Members would meet after work to help with the construction.”

The New Providence Lodge building was finally completed in 1954. Fifty-five years later, in March 2009, the City of Miami designated the two-story, 10,000-square-foot structure historic. At the time, it was occupied by branch offices for the Florida Department of Transportation and Jackson Hewitt Tax Services.

By the time the Simkins brothers bought it, the building was empty and in poor shape. “It cost me a million dollars to renovate,” Simkins says. The CRA contributed a $350,000 grant toward the building’s revamp.

Tribe_5Suzan McDowell, founder and CEO of Circle of One Marketing, says she inked a deal for a ground-floor office just two days after Hatcher mentioned she was opening a co-working space in Overtown.

McDowell, who is also the executive director of the CRA-owned Overtown Performing Arts Center, says that after being forced out of her longtime Wynwood office by a new landlord, she operated Circle of One from her Miami Shores home the past two years. “It was fun for about a year or so,” she says, but in the last six months she was ready to move the business and its employees out of her house.

McDowell says she met Pearson and Hatcher eight years ago through the couple’s catering company and Midtown Miami shop called Feverish Pops.

“I grew up in South Georgia, where we had a farm.” Pearson explains. “So we had peaches and blackberry bushes, and…we learned to make popsicles.”

McDowell met Hatcher, who grew up in Delray Beach, selling popsicles from a lime green Scion during an American Apparel event. “I bought a popsicle from her and I was like, ‘I love you! We’re about to be together because the product you have is the product I love and need.’” She retained Feverish to provide alcohol-spiked popsicles at marketing events and Circle of One parties.

Popsicles also led Pearson and Hatcher to create Code Fever. They wanted to teach their employees a marketable career for the future. “We knew they weren’t going to make popsicles for the rest of their lives,” Pearson recounts. Both knew how to code computers. Hatcher, a communications major from Lynn University, learned coding when she was in high school. Pearson, who has an economics degree from Morehouse College was, as Hatcher put it, “one of those kids who was breaking computers apart and putting them back together.”

So they decided to do a “hack-a-thon” session at the LAB Miami for their Feverish Pops employees and some of their friends. “Wilfredo [Fernandez, LAB Miami’s co-founder] gave us a space,” Pearson remembers.

“We only expected maybe 20 people,” Hatcher says. “And almost 80 people showed up.”

In an effort to educate kids and young adults about coding, Pearson and Hatcher formed Code Fever in 2013. Education sessions involved anywhere from 25 to 100 people. And the locations varied. Most recently, Code Fever sessions were held at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

“We never had a physical space from the beginning, but we had the laptops,” Pearson says. “The laptops allowed us to go into the offices and facilities of our partners. We would come into the library, or parks and rec, or organizations.... The only thing we required was an Internet and projectors.

“But now,” he continues, “we have a facility.”

A facility in the heart of Overtown, enabling Code Fever to advance education, creativity, collaboration, and entrepreneurism. Such spaces, Hatcher insists, are lacking in South Florida’s black neighborhoods.

“The biggest thing is, innovative spaces should exist in black neighborhoods,” Hatcher says. “Like, that shouldn’t even be a question. And, hopefully, this will be a trend you’ll start seeing in black neighborhoods. The innovation conversation.”

 

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